Washington Might Extend Protections To Marijuana Patients


Artwork: Jimmy Wheeler
The late Jimmy Wheeler, a medical marijuana patient in Washington, created this artwork. Washington patients could finally get the arrest protection they seek if a bill that would do just that passes the Legislature.

​Medical marijuana patients in Washington could have protection from arrest if the Legislature passes a bill reforming the 1998 voter-approved law authorizing use of cannabis for some terminal and debilitating illnesses.

I know what you’re thinking. “Shouldn’t they ALREADY have arrest protection if medical marijuana is legal for them to use?”
Yes. Yes, they should.
Although the law has been in place for more than 12 years, many patients complain they are still harassed by police, said Sen. Jerome Delvin (R-Richland), a co-sponsor of the Senate of the Senate version of the bill, reports Michelle Dupler at the Tri-City Herald.
Delvin pushed for the bill to include a voluntary patient registry that would provide medical marijuana patients a card they can show to police rather than submitting to searches of their homes or property.
“It allows us to know what’s going on out there,” said Delvin, a former Richland police officer who retired in 2006. “It gives law enforcement an easier tool. They can have confidence in the registry. If someone has a card — case closed.”

Washington State Senate Republican Caucus
Sen. Jerome Delvin: “If someone has a card — case closed.”

​One of the problems with the original medical marijuana initiative approved by voters is that it lacked clear-cut definitions to help cities, counties and law enforcement agencies implement and enforce the law’s intent, according to Philip Dawdy, spokesman for the recently formed Washington Cannabis Association.
Different parts of Washington have interpreted the state law in different ways. For instance, some allow patients to grow plants collectively, while others don’t.
Some, like King County, home of Seattle, allow patients to buy their medical marijuana through dispensaries, while others have shut dispensaries down. This gives rise to an inconsistent patchwork of enforcement within which, for example, you can be jailed in Kitsap County for doing the same thing that wouldn’t get you a second glance if you crossed Puget Sound into King County.
“It’s all a matter of who is reading the law, and what they read into it,” the Herald reports.
But the new bill, introduced by main sponsor Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) this week, could solve some of the worst problems identified by medical marijuana advocates.
“There is much ambiguity around our state’s current medical marijuana law that is resulting from inconsistent enforcement throughout the state,” Kohl-Welles said. “Creating a statutory and regulatory structure for licensing growers and dispensaries will allow us to provide for an adequate, safe, consistent and secure source of the medicine for qualifying patients, address public safety concerns and establish statewide uniformity in the implementation of the law.”
The bill wouldn’t change who is eligible to be authorized to become a medical marijuana patient. Patients suffering from conditions such as cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, anorexia, glaucoma and hepatitis C, or those experiencing “intractable pain” that standard treatments cannot relieve, are eligible under the existing law.
What it does is provide arrest protection. The existing law merely provides an “affirmative defense” to charges of marijuana possession for authorized patients — and specifically allows collectives and dispensaries.
The existing law doesn’t address the issues of collectives or dispensaries at all, which had led to the current wildly divergent interpretations across the state.
Some jurisdictions — such as Sen. Delvin’s home town of Richland — take the position that the law’s failure to address collectives or dispensaries makes them illegal. Others take the opposite approach.
The bill, SB 5073 in the Senate and HB 1100 in the House (the House version was introduced by Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver), would create licensing systems for growing and dispensing medical marijuana, with growers licensed through the state Department of Agriculture, while the Department of Health would oversee dispensary licensing.